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  • Ren Gudino

Highway Myths: Fact or Fiction?

Highways are required to have natural foliage alongside them for beautification. Highways curve to keep drivers awake. Every five miles is followed by one straight highway mile in case planes need to land. Drivers can get hypnotized by staring at the lines in the road for too long. We’ve heard these before and I had always thought all of them are true, however, some of these are just highway myths!

If you read our last blog, then you’ll have read all about Lady Bird Johnson and how the Highway Beautification Act was a real thing. States are actually required to preserve and conserve their natural landscape along the highway! There are federal qualifications that every state must meet in order to keep our nation’s highways from becoming dumping groups—which was what was done when highways were first being made. This myth is true and you can read more about it here.

What about there being a requirement to keep one mile in every five straight for emergency plane landings? That one is a myth! The origin of this myth is unknown but the Federal Highway Administration speculates that it started from a misreading of the Defense Highway Act of 1941. Flight strips were required to have access to highways and have unmistakable landmarks to be easily found in the air. This was to provide emergency landing spots in the case of military need but also for any airborne pilot that might need to land suddenly. Unlike the “one-mile-in-five” rumor, this was just about what requirements the flight strips needed to have and NOT a requirement the highway system needed to support.

Have you heard about how highways curve specifically to encourage drivers to stay awake? This one is a mix of true and untrue. There is not a design requirement in place that states highways need to have curves for driver safety—however, this is a factor that can be considered when mapping out a highway. A myriad of factors are thought of in highway design: from avoiding obstacles, navigating terrain, and stability—how much a road curves can be for a number of reasons. If a road is cutting straight through a plain, the highway plans may include curves just for the drivers.

Finally, what about highway hypnosis? This is a phenomenon where drivers can drive for miles while in a state of hypnosis, caused by staring at the white lines in the road for long periods of time. This one is true! Also called “white line fever,” a driver can remain in this state for a few minutes or hours, arriving at their destination without any memory of the drive. This is still a form of distracted driving though, since reaction times are slowed and symptoms often mirror drowsy driving. The brain won’t be alert enough to notice or respond to sudden changes. In order to avoid highway hypnosis, drivers should be well-rested, sit in good posture, take frequent breaks, and listen to something that keeps the brain active.

In sum, highways are not designed with flight strips or sleepy drivers in mind, but they are landscaped to preserve our environment. Next time you travel, don’t forget about highway hypnosis and maybe taking a second to look around and appreciate the natural beauty can help! Or maybe take a second to notice the signs along the way and remember that that was done by our small business, Interstate Signways!

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